I was listening to a Terry Gross interview with Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day fame a couple of weeks back. Much lively banter about the music business and society in general. They talked for a while about the formative years of the band. Back in the day as they say, Mr. Armstrong and his mates did not require too much to stage a gig – a van, a venue, instruments and some amps. With these things in place, he would then go on the hunt for a someone from whom he could borrow some mascara. I will paraphrase here (do follow the link if you want to hear it verbatim):
“I just felt that it was part of the look, and I think that all women at some level want to turn a guy into a girl. I made some interesting friends”.
I more or less missed the rest of the interview as the card catalog of similarly, partially and unmistakably feminized musical performers flipped open in my minds ears and eyes. Many long forgotten favorites were drawn from the memory banks, and I was surprised in hindsight just how much of the music I loved at one point or another in my life had an expressed gender edge to it. Sometimes pure shock, sometimes sophisticated challenges to societal norms, perhaps on occasion very real relief valves for performers wrestling, as many Voyages en Rose readers do, with gender identity.
Whatever drove the urge to paint the eyes and preen various other surfaces, something was going on behind they eyes, and beneath the surface. And that something was something that never failed to get my attention. At the time, I did not draw a straight line between the performers appearances and affectations and my attention to their music.
I believed then that I listened to and defended the virtues of these individuals and bands solely as a result of them being creative, original, cerebral, non-commercial, artistic, or simply possessed of the correct measures of devil-may-care, go-fuck-yourself-if-you-don’t-get-it attitude to win my impassioned idolatry. In hindsight, I may have lowered my critical bar for a few acts who approached said bar in high heels.
My Cross Dressing was pretty suppressed then, to myself and the world. A “phase” like so many of my other teenage and early adult behaviors that would erupt from time to time, and recede just as fast and furiously. I paid these urges very little mind except when I was fully in their grip (metaphorically and otherwise) thinking that they would ultimately vanish at some point when I grew up, got sober, grabbed a (real) job and emerged from my perverse cocoon as a fully realized adult.
Drop the needle in three decades later, and well, here I am, fully realized or not, as fully adult as I suspect I will ever be. And as fully at peace with my curious mix as one could hope. From this happy perch I look back on much of the music that moved me thinking now that I was hardwired to like performers who bent the gender rules. At some subconscious level I believe that I wanted them to succeed, and to be accepted. Unknowingly, perhaps I wanted their very Transgressive-ness to clear a path for me.
I know many of you to be passionate about music. I hope therefore that you will enjoy the odd essay here through the summer months featuring a little commentary on the music and the muses of a few notable Gender Benders with Fenders, a Rogue’s Gallery of the Thoroughly Rouged. Perhaps at the conclusion of this series, we will all be possessed of some wonderful finding about art, creativity and the fuller humanity of the gender diverse. Or we may simply blush and shudder remembering fashion crimes of the 70’s and 80’s (yes, I am talking to you Bananarama fans out there).
I will start off next week with South London sophisticates Japan (Mick Karn and David Sylvian pictured above). Your comments will undoubtedly contain suggestions that overlap with my list, and introduce me to names unknown or too long forgotten. I will be happy to hear from any of you that want to guest post here in the form of a tribute to your own favorites. You can reach me at the usual coordinates (and you can borrow my mascara in return).